One of my favorite out-of-the-way midwestern towns is a small, blue collar ethnic community known as Whiting, Indiana. The town of Whiting is nestled between Lake Michigan to the north (they have a clean sandy beach) Chicago’s industrial southeast side to the west, a BP refinery to the south and northern Indiana’s steel mills to the east. It has the prerequisite Indiana border town casino boat, fireworks stores, cheap gas and cigarettes that are detrimental to the local economy.
Whiting has a different kind of charm. There may be clones in or near Detroit, Cleveland or Pittsburgh and other industrial rust-belt areas. Whiting is extremely clean. A lot of old world eastern European folks still live there and they are extremely proud of their heritage and personal property. It’s the kind of place where many second and third generations stay to live and raise a family. The postage stamp size well-groomed and weed-free lawns look like Astroturf in front of their bungalows and three-flats. Its hard to find a home or business with faded or chipped paint. Did I mention no litter or graffiti? The only problem they have is when the wind blows from the southeast. Pee-youu!
Each year they throw a fabulous summer party known as Pierogifest. I go every year. It is a tasteful spoof on the rampant and unnecessary glut of suburban and urban summertime “fests”. Pierogifest is a celebration of ethnic (Polish-Slavic) heritage and food in a light-hearted way. It is held in late July and lasts for three days.
The highlight for me is the opening parade held on Friday evening. It features the obligatory Precision Lawn-mower Drill team along with the proprietary Twirling Babushka Brigade, the Marching MBA's, the World's Original Lazy Boy float, the Pierogi Queen and her court, and the "Beer-o-gies”. It’s a really great time even if you hate local “fests”. My favorite is the live polka music. It reminds me of weddings I attended as a child in northwest Indiana. This event has received coverage from not only the local news but The Travel Channel and The Food Channel as well.
The best way to describe a pierogi is the Polish version of ravioli only larger. My favorites are stuffed with a combination of either sauerkraut and potato or cheese and potato. There is even a gyro pierogi for the Greeks. Pierogis and other ethnic delights are sold from stands on the “closed to all traffic” main street. Did I mention plenty of cold beer?
Wikipedia describes Pierogis as “ semi-circular dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed with cheese, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, cabbage, onion, meat, mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, dry cottage cheese (the last two are rather Mennonite-specific), or any combination thereof, or with a fruit filling. Mashed potatoes are the most common filling.” So there you have it. Wait…Mennonite? What?
My mother and grandmothers made pierogis and still do for holiday dinners. Its a lot of work. I will post our recipe later when I post a late season holiday food topic. They go great with authentic polish sausage, which many have never had the pleasure of enjoying. The “Vienna Maxwell St. Polish” served at many Chicago Hot Dog stands is an outright fraud. There’s nothing Polish about it.
Late in July I will post a report from my annual Pierogifest visit complete with original photos and possible video of this uniquely Midwestern event. The photos here are from the Pierogi Fest web site.
More info is here http://www.pierogifest.net/
Hope to see you there!